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Qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income benefits based on

Posted by attorney Timothy Berger

Has an injury or illness kept you from working for 12 months or more? Do you have an injury or illness that will keep you from working for 12 months or more?

If so, you may be eligible for Social Security disability ("SSD") or for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits.

SSD benefits are available to disabled people who consistently Social Security taxes before they became disabled. Usually, you must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years. However, if you are less than 31 years old, a slightly different test applies: the younger you are, the less time you must have worked. There are no asset limits; you can collect SSD as long as you meet Social Security's test. If you qualify for SSD, your monthly benefits are based on the Social Security taxes that you paid before you became disabled.

SSI benefits are available to disabled people who have never worked, or who worked intermittently and thus do not qualify for SSD. There are strict limits on assets and income. You can have no more than $2,000 in assets (excluding one car or home) for an individual and no more than $3,000 for a married couple. The benefits depend on what income, if any, you have. Presently, the most you can get is $710 per month.

If you meet the work history requirement for SSD or the financial needs requirement for SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration uses a 5-step sequential evaluation to determine if you qualify as disabled.

Step 1: Are you working?

This step is easily met if you are not working. Even if you are still working, you still meet this step if your monthly earnings are less than the monthly maximum set by the Social Security Administration, which changes annually. If you are not working under either of these tests, the Social Security Administration goes to step 2.

Step 2: Is your condition "severe"?

Your medical condition must interfere with your basic work-related activities. If it does, your condition is considered "severe" and the Social Security Administration goes to step 3.

Step 3: Is your condition found in the Social Security Administration's list of disabling conditions?

If you suffer from a specific injury, disease or condition that is on a list of disabling conditions that is maintained by the Social Security Administration, you meet a "listing" and are automatically found to be entitled to SSD or SSI benefits without proceeding to steps 4 or 5. In order to establish that you suffer from this injury, disease or condition, your medical records must document specific findings.

Step 4: Can you do the work you did previously? Does your injury, disease or condition prevent you from doing any of the types of jobs that you held over the last 15 years? If so, the Social Security Administration goes to step 5.

Step 5: Can you do any other type of work?

The Social Security Administration determines whether you can do any other type of work that is suitable for you. It considers the characteristics of a list of jobs contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, a book assembled by the Department of Labor. It considers these characteristics in light of your age, education, work history, job skills, and medical condition. If the Social Security Administration finds that you are unable to perform any of these jobs, it will approve your claim and you will receive SSD or SSI benefits.

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